More Young Adults Developing Heart Disease

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A young adult male clutching his chest

An alarming trend in heart disease has taken hold among younger adults. The incidence of heart attacks in people under age 40 is on the rise.

University Hospitals cardiologist Raju Modi, MD, says cardiovascular disease – disorders of the heart and blood vessels – typically show up in people in their 50s and 60s. But rising rates of obesity, diabetes and related health problems have put many people younger at risk.

“The heart disease trend that we’re seeing over the last two decades is in the very young, defined as people who are under the age of 40,” Dr. Modi says. “From 2006 to 2016, we’ve seen about a 2 percent per year increase in very young people with heart attacks.”

Understanding Risk Factors

Many risks associated with cardiovascular disease are controllable: Blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and smoking.

Type 2 diabetes is an important factor in the rise in heart attacks among younger adults. A 2019 study found one in five patients under age 50 who suffered a heart attack also had diabetes.

“All of these medical conditions, whether together or individually, contribute to increases inflammation in atherosclerosis, which is the plaque that causes hardening of the arteries,” Dr. Modi says.

“Atherosclerosis, which starts developing early in life, progressively gets worse. When you have these risks factors, the inflammation in that plaque tends to progress much more rapidly.”

Inflammation heightens risk of plaque rupturing, leading to a blood clot in the coronary artery that causes a heart attack.

The goal of prevention is to reduce inflammation. That can be achieved through diet, exercise, not smoking, reducing cholesterol and blood pressure, and aggressively treating diabetes.

“The aim of every one of these treatments is to reduce the inflammation that’s happening in the plaque and thereby, hopefully reduce the progression of that plaque,” he says.

Tips For a Healthy Heart

  • Focus on things you can control: Medications and lifestyle choices.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of continuous aerobic activity five days a week. It doesn’t have to be intense exercise. Walking is fine.
  • Shift toward a plant-based diet by including more fruits and vegetables in your meals or snacks. Diet has a major impact on the progression of heart disease.

“I don’t expect somebody to be 100 percent vegan,” Dr. Modi says. “But as close to that target as you can get, the healthier you’re going to be.”

Related Links

University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute is dedicated to providing the highest quality care for all patients. Our team is uniquely skilled in advanced minimally invasive and surgical techniques, with remarkable patient outcomes. Learn more.

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